A Casual Tour through the Salon du Livre in Paris
- by Thibault Ehrengardt
The Salon du Livre.
Last April, I was officially invited to a “wonderful journey” and urged to “follow the footsteps of my ancestors”... To make it simple, I went to the Salon du Livre in Paris. Since 2007, it takes place every year at the prestigious Grand Palais, and has become the holy mass of bibliophilism in France as well as one of the most important book fairs in the world, gathering some 150 booksellers from all over. It is a showroom for books of exception such as the Missale Romanum...with embroidered plates that we already talked about (see The Curiosity Sale At Drouot article), a wonderful folio edition of Shakespeare’s works, dozens of Books of Hours, incunables and some extremely rare travel books. Out of a sea of wonders, I decided to pick up three particular items.
1 – La Bruyère, Les Caractères (Paris, 1688)
The bookseller from the French Moortmather’s bookshop came to life at once. “A special book? Yes - take this one.” He handed me an ordinary in-12 volume bound in full calf with a joyful smile. Unaware of its specific binding, I opened it – a 1688 edition of La Bruyère’s famous Les Caractères, in which the author describes the customs of his time through short, lively and dark sketches. An expert would have spotted the contemporary binding at once as “it is identical to those of most copies of the first edition” reads the catalogue of Moormather’s. But there’s something more about this particular one that justifies the consequent price asked for it (20,000 euros). “If you ask me,” said the bookseller, “La Bruyère was probably a real pain in the ass who kept on adding corrections to his work. For each of them, the printer had to reprint a full page before replacing it into every copy. That’s what we call “cartons”, and La Bruyère’s editions are very well-known for their numerous cartons.” Specialists have established two kind of Les Caractères’ copies : the first one features 418 sketches and 10 cartons. According to Tchemerzine, there are 5 known copies of the sort. The second one features 26 cartons. “Our copy features 23 cartons!” triumphed the bookseller, which is quite uncommon. “Even more interesting,” he added, “our copy features a mistake corrected in the Tchemerzine’s copy! It makes it unique.” The catalogue of the book shop gives all the details regarding the cartons and the mistakes they are related to. It is incredible how deep book lovers can push their fury. An ordinary book thus reveals a complex riddle, a mysterious footstep left by our ancestors...